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Hubway tests out winter service in Cambridge

Hubway bikes on a rack in Copley Square are ready to go. But, salt aside, the bikes can also roll in winter weather.

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

Hubway bikes on a rack in Copley Square are ready to go. But, salt aside, the bikes can also roll in winter weather.

When it comes to hardy New Englanders unfazed by the prospect of bitter cold and wintry weather, Cambridge may have the rest of the region beaten.

The city and the Hubway bike-sharing program said Tuesday that they will debut winter-weather service in Cambridge as part of a pilot program to test whether all-
season service could be possible for the whole system.

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It is a significant undertaking for Hubway, which has closed up shop each winter since its summer 2011 launch.

Hubway administrators said snow removal had been the primary obstacle to year-round service. But as leaders in Brookline, Boston, and Somerville felt it wise to pack away their cities’ bike-sharing program for winter hibernation, Cambridge officials sought for the city to serve as a winter guinea pig.

“It’s become pretty clear that there’s an expectation that if this is going to be a real transportation system, we should be able to access it as much of the year as possible,” said Cara Seiderman, Cambridge transportation program manager.

Only one Cambridge station will be removed for the winter, at Lafayette Square on Massachusetts Avenue.

Hubway administrators are steeling themselves for the prospect of tending to the 26 Cambridge Hubway stations through the harshest months, and they will face plenty of challenges. Shorter days mean that the bike-sharing kiosks’ solar-powered batteries may peter out, requiring staff to swap in fully-charged replacements. Road salt is corrosive, so bikes will have to be cleaned regularly.

Hubway staff will be responsible for snow removal. If there is a blizzard warning, they will attempt to evacuate all the bikes. Afterward, they will hire contractors to plow the stations.

Aside from the salt, the bikes themselves are designed to withstand extreme weather, said Emily Stapleton , Hubway general manager. “The bikes are meant to be out in all seasons,” she said.

Seiderman said she expected plenty of demand for Hubway bikes in winter months.

“We already know that people bike year-round in Cambridge,” Seiderman said. “Just look out at the streets any day that’s not a blizzard.”

Stapleton said Hubway staff will use data collected this winter to help determine whether, and where, year-round service could be successful.

“We want to see what riding through the winter would look like,” Stapleton said.

Hubway is one of several bike-sharing systems around the country, including Chicago’s Divvy and Denver’s B-Cycle, that have announced in recent weeks that they will now be available all four seasons. New York City’s bike-sharing system, which debuted this summer, has been year-round from the get-go. Hubway staff have visited Toronto’s Bixi, which runs through the winter.

“People think of winter and they think the whole winter is going to be like their memory of three days where there was a frigid snap or a blizzard,” said Seiderman. “That’s not three or four months; that’s just a few days or a week. And we don’t want to design a system around a couple of days when the rest of the season is great.”

Few people were more excited by Hubway’s news than Corey Watts, 25, who moved this year to Porter Square. A Hubway member since May, he had been dreading a winter without bike-sharing.

Though his daily commute to Longwood Medical Area will have to occur via the T, he said he was relieved to learn he could still use bike-sharing for his Cambridge errands and his daily journey to his girlfriend’s apartment near Harvard Square.

“It will be good for our relationship,” he said.

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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